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After 3 years in the state Legislature, will 'Macy's Law' become a reality?

It's too late to prevent what happened to Macy Kujava. For state Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, the coming weeks may represent the culmination of more than three years of work in the Legislature--working, that is, to pass a bill he believes will...

North Memorial helicopter lifts off the scene of a traffic crash on County Highway 3 north of Brainerd in January of 2015. Macy Kujava and her daughter, Spohie were seriously injured in the crash. Forum News Service file photo
North Memorial helicopter lifts off the scene of a traffic crash on County Highway 3 north of Brainerd in January of 2015. Macy Kujava and her daughter, Spohie were seriously injured in the crash. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
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It's too late to prevent what happened to Macy Kujava.

For state Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, the coming weeks may represent the culmination of more than three years of work in the Legislature-working, that is, to pass a bill he believes will prevent scores of Minnesotans from suffering Macy's fate.

The bill has been dubbed "Macy's Law," so named in honor of Kujava, a Nisswa woman placed in a vegetative state after a driver with a revoked license, Vaughn Gentry, crossed into her lane and collided with her vehicle on County Highway 3 in January 2015. Kujava's daughter Sophie, 4 years old at the time, was also severely injured.

It seeks to punish repeat offenders without a valid driver's license with enhanced penalties and minimum fines established. If enacted, the law would increase the criminal penalty from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor if a crash results in great bodily harm, and would also create a three strikes approach for drivers who continue to drive in spite of having a revoked or suspended license.

Now, after more than three years of falling short-and no shortage of trips back to the proverbial drawing board-Heintzeman has high hopes for the bill's chances. Tuesday, Jan. 22, the bill will go before the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee and that, coupled with its high place on the docket, is always a good sign.

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"I'm very optimistic. It's moving very well in the Senate. We're getting some good progress there. We're getting attention from the media down in the metro. I think we're going to see some renewed interest. I think we're going to see a lot more people working on the legislation," Heintzeman told the Dispatch during a phone interview Monday, Jan. 21. "I'm really excited that Macy's bill has a great chance of success this cycle."

This wasn't always the case. Heintzeman expressed frustration with the bill's progress in the past, after it's faltered down the stretch and failed to reach the finish line session after session.

Despite having a "very receptive" House of Representatives, as Heintzeman has put it, it's been difficult work to find agreement with colleagues in the state Senate.

"Last session, I thought I had everything in place. I had support in the Senate-it had support, it made its way through. I had support in the House-it had support, it made its way through," said Heintzeman of the bill, which he co-authored with state Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove. "Our bills, unfortunately, were not meant to be."

He noted he's taking a different approach-gunning for hearings and readings before the committees, addressing concerns by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, aiming to have it signed as a separate piece of legislation versus an omnibus bill and, if need be, amended on the floor.

With all those avenues available to him-and, with a growing consensus in favor of Macy's Law-Heintzeman said it's only a matter of when, not if, the bill will finally be passed.

"Whether it's even this session or not, this will become law. The people of Minnesota know that this is an issue, that this is a problem here," Heintzeman said. "Even if politicians get in the way for a short time, it will become law someday and I really expect it will become law this session."

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